BOISE — The Colorado-based company suing Idaho State Police to get its $1.3 million hemp shipment back has offered to drop the suit if the state will return the hemp and allow it to send future shipments through Idaho.
The company, Big Sky Scientific, in a written statement Thursday said it “has offered to settle this case and all future cases, including claims for money damages, against the State if it will just give back Big Sky’s industrial hemp and allow it to continue to do its business by shipping its lawful product through Idaho in interstate commerce.”
The company is waiting for a response, according to the statement. Scott Graf, spokesman for the Idaho Office of the Attorney General, declined to comment on the statement, citing the ongoing nature of the case.
On Jan. 24, ISP seized the company’s 6,701 pounds of industrial hemp at an Ada County Port of Entry and arrested the trucker on charges of trafficking marijuana. The agency has kept the hemp as evidence in the driver’s criminal case. It’s uncertain how the hemp has fared during its monthslong stint in ISP’s evidence storage.
The driver, Denis Palamarchuk, 38, was transporting the hemp from Oregon to Colorado. On Tuesday, attorneys filed paperwork indicating Palamarchuk would plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge, reduced from the original felony charge, and serve no jail time.
After that plea is accepted by a magistrate judge, the hemp would no longer be needed as evidence in a criminal trial. It’s uncertain, though, what will happen to it.
“The disposition of the evidence has yet to be determined,” ISP spokesman Tim Marsano said.
Meanwhile, Ryan Shore, president of Big Sky Scientific, said he’s unsure if the hemp would even be usable if the company got it back.
For decades, hemp suffered from its association with marijuana. Hemp, like marijuana, is considered cannabis. By law, hemp can’t contain more than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Hemp, useful in various products, doesn’t produce a high. Big Sky Scientific had planned to produce CBD oil — believed to help treat arthritis, seizures, and anxiety — from the shipment that was seized in Idaho.
The federal 2014 Farm Bill allowed states to set up research pilot programs for farmers to cultivate hemp. Four years later, the 2018 Farm Bill allowed for the interstate transport of hemp, making it legal at the federal level. By then, the vast majority of states in the country also had state laws allowing the cultivation and sale of the crop.
Farmers were interested, and, in particular, Oregon farmers became some of the leading experts on the crop. Shore said Big Sky Scientific purchased the hemp in question from a farm near Hubbard, Oregon, south of Portland. The farm had traditionally been a berry farm, but a younger member of the family wanted to try growing hemp, Shore said.
As Shore told it, the decision — and Big Sky Scientific’s purchase — saved the farm. Strawberries might sell for about a dollar a pound. Two years ago, due to a combination of interest in the crop and a lack of supply, hemp sold for between $150 and $200 per pound, Shore said.
That number has dropped off sharply since then, he said. Last year, hemp could sell for roughly $40 a pound. This year, experts speculate it sells for between a few dollars per pound and $10 a pound, Shore said — which means it’s still a valuable product.
That’s precisely why Shore said he’s unaware of anyone trying to store industrial hemp for a long period of time.
“Nobody sane would ever store a crop that’s depreciating like that,” Shore said.
Hemp must be stored correctly to avoid mold. The part of the hemp flowers in which the cannabinoids are stored can break off as well. Additionally, the crop can lose its percentage of CBD — which is the valuable chemical within the plant. If the amount of CBD drops below a certain point, Shore said, “you can no longer afford to process it.”
Thus, he said, if Big Sky Scientific did get the crop back, “it’s questionable, regardless of the CBD that is left, the value proposition — well, it’s not good.”
‘DRUGS ARE CONTRABAND’
Despite efforts in the Idaho Legislature this past session, Idaho remains one of few states where hemp is illegal. Under the state’s laws, any substance containing THC is considered marijuana. The Idaho State Police, in fact, announced the seizure of the hemp shipment as the largest marijuana bust in the history of Idaho — and under state law, it’s an accurate description.
Marsano, spokesman for ISP, was limited in what he could say about the hemp, due to the ongoing litigation. He provided a copy of the agency’s procedures regarding disposition of evidence and property.
Under that procedure, drugs — such as marijuana — are destroyed.
“Drugs are contraband and are not returned to their owners,” the procedure reads.
‘UNFEASIBLE KIND OF COMMERCE’
But the problem arises from the fact that Idaho borders Oregon, which, alongside Kentucky, has come to be seen as a hemp-growing mecca. Shore said Idaho has, for all intents and purposes, established itself as a barrier to interstate commerce. For instance, he said, Big Sky Scientific has done business in Montana. If the company wanted to ship hemp from Oregon to Montana through Idaho, it might be a 10- or 12-hour trip.
To avoid Idaho altogether, the trip time would more than double.
“It takes that and makes than an unfeasible kind of commerce,” Shore said.